Turnover is Turnover: What Churning Employees Says About Your Culture

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“You are not going to believe this, but our admin just quit. She just handed in her two weeks’ notice.”

This is the third admin to come in within the past year and within a month all showed signs that their exit is imminent. Working till 10/11 pm three to four nights a week will cause anyone to rethink a job, especially if you are the new person on the block.”

As our discussion continued, I asked what the manager/HR is going to do about this. Her remarkable reply was, “Oh, they just reposted the job.” I almost dropped the phone reacting to that statement.

How could you allow the job to be re-posted after having three people walk out the door?

When this turnover issue first surfaced, I was told that the first person in the job had been there for just a few weeks, went to lunch one day and did not return or call back. The phrase for that is quitting over lunch.

The dysfunction and the after shock

When there is dysfunction in an organization, these type things happen all the time. But the question is what type of job causes organizations to churn dollars over and over again? What I found out was that this role requires lots of late nights and flying out on Fridays to work through weekends in various cities.

The ones that need the job will stay till they get something else. The ones that are probably financially stronger will look for the exit sign right away.

The last young lady that survived (and has been there over year now) made it through the gauntlet. She could not quit — student loans, rent, and other bills served as a weighted ball that would not allow her exit. However, she was rewarded with a promotion and a substantial raise. She said that there were many nights of coming home in tears, sleep for a few hours, and then back to the grind.

Even now, with a new title and lots more money, she said that she will eventually leave. Working 50-60 hours is commonplace, and she said that she cannot live the rest of her life like this

Leading from behind the desk

What I always find amazing is when leaders of companies discuss their workplace culture; you almost can hear the violins playing in the background. However, if you were to stand outside the door at the end of the day or night and get an unvarnished opinion, there just may be a huge disconnect.

This is what I call “leading from behind the desk” — saying great things in an email, blog or company monthly newsletter and thinking that just doing that is going to drive the culture. This was borne out in a recent study by Deloitte titled Core Beliefs and Culture. It says, at one point:

There is a disconnect between organizations simply talking about their culture and those that are embedding their beliefs into their operations.”

Leadership disconnect!

Leaders often time have an inflated sense of their workplace culture when compared to what their workforce thinks. According to the Deloitte report, when considering what factors impact workplace culture, executives rank tangible elements such as financial performance (65 percent) and competitive compensation (62 percent) among the highest, whereas those factors were among the lowest for employees.

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In contrast, employees rank intangible elements such as regular and candid communications (50 percent), employee recognition (49 percent), and access to management/leadership (47 percent) the highest.

So executives perceive employee satisfaction and their company culture as being stronger than it really is. Recognizing employees for their achievements, honestly communicating with them, and ensuring that you are connecting with them in person are all critical aspects of embedding values into a culture and expressing forward-thinking leadership.

These disconnects show that what connects with employees has no significant cost, dollar wise. Yes, honest communications, employee recognition and access to the organization’s leadership don’t cost a lot.

Turnover, and why it should matter

These turnover numbers should push an extensive look into an organization’s turnover rate to figure out why. Even though this admin role is probably at the low end of the totem pole, it shows that there is a serious fissure in this corporate culture. It should cause concern not only for the managers of that department, but an organizational concern that calls for an all hands on deck look into this situation.

Imagine what would happen if, instead of this situation being about an administrative assistant, that it was three VP’s who resigned within a year. If that happened, it would surely cause a serious look into the situation. The fact that it is an administrative position should not matter at it shouldn’t be looked at any differently.

Maybe, by finding the root cause of that level of turnover, it could give you some insight into how to fix the problem and avoid behavior that could drive other employees to the exits.

Titles don’t matter. Turnover is turnover.

Ron Thomas is Managing Director, Strategy Focused Group DWC LLC, based in Dubai. He is also a senior faculty member and representative of the Human Capital Institute covering the MENA/Asia Pacific region.

He was formerly CEO of Great Place to Work-Gulf and former CHRO based in Riyadh. He holds certifications from the Human Capital Institute as Global Human Capital Strategist, Master Human Capital Strategist, and Strategic Workforce Planner.

He's been cited by CIPD as one of the top 5 HR Thinkers in the Middle East. He received the Outstanding Leadership Award for Global HR Excellence at the World Human Resources Development Congress in Mumbai, and was named as one of the 50 Most Talented Global HR Leaders in Asia

Ron's prior roles included senior HR positions with Xerox HR services, IBM, and Martha Stewart Living.

Board memberships include the Harvard Business Review Advisory Council, McKinsey Quarterly's Executive Online Panel, and HCI's Expert Advisory Council on Talent Management Strategy.

His work has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Inc. Magazine, Workforce Management and numerous international HR magazines covering Africa, India and the Middle East.


7 Comments on “Turnover is Turnover: What Churning Employees Says About Your Culture

  1. “What I always find amazing is when leaders of companies discuss their
    workplace culture; you almost can hear the violins playing in the
    background. However, if you were to stand outside the door at the end of
    the day or night and get an unvarnished opinion, there just may be a
    huge disconnect.”

    The difference between the “brand” and the “identity” is the difference between setting goals and achieving goals. Unfortunately, culture does not happen in a vacuum. Either you control it or it will control you.

  2. Great article! Employee turnover is something to be concerned about, no matter what position. If you don’t have a good company culture, or your company culture doesn’t match your stated values, you’re likely to lose out on the talent you need. But it’s also important to make sure the talent you’re bringing into your company actually matches the culture. In the interview process, whether in person or through online video, make sure the candidate you’re talking to will really fit into your company culture and enjoy the workplace. Otherwise employee turnover will always be a problem at your organization.

  3. We just finished collecting data on turnover processes using a one year follow up. We found that we could predict with 82% accuracy who would stay and who would leave examining the persons fit with the company culture. So there are selection practices (such as hiring for culture fit) that dovetail well with managerial and leadership initiatives to reduce unhealthy turnover.

  4. Great article , so true, but most our attitudes especially would be its just an admin role. Most often HR personnel look at it , they don’t bother to nip the atmosphere in the organisation. They are just too busy filling roles and posting JDs .

  5. Hello Ron,

    We should not be surprised that some employers suffer with high employee turnover given the following data.

    80% of employees self-report that they are not engaged.
    80% of managers are ill suited to effectively manage people.
    The two 80 percents are closely related.

    Employers hire the wrong people to be their managers and then the managers hire the wrong people to be their employees. Stop hiring the wrong people to be managers.

    Successful employees have all three of the following success predictors while unsuccessful employee lack one or two and usually it is Job Talent that they lack.
    1. Competence
    2. Cultural Fit
    3. Job Talent ??

    Employers do a…
    A. Great job of hiring competent employees. ?
    B. Good job of hiring competent employees who fit the culture. ?
    C. Poor job of hiring competent employees who fit the culture and who have a talent for the job. ?

    Identifying the talent required for each job seems to be missing from talent and management discussions. If we ignore any of the three criteria, our workforce will be less successful with higher turnover than if we do not ignore any of the three criteria.
    1. Competence
    2. Cultural Fit
    3. Talent

    There are many factors to consider when hiring and managing talent but first we need to define talent unless “hiring talent” means “hiring employees.” Everyone wants to hire for and manage talent but if we can’t answer the five questions below with specificity, we can’t hire or manage talent effectively.
    1. How do we define talent?
    2. How do we measure talent?
    3. How do we know a candidate’s talent?
    4. How do we know what talent is required for each job?
    5. How do we match a candidate’s talent to the talent demanded by the job?

    Most managers cannot answer the five questions with specificity but the answers provide the framework for hiring successful employees and creating an engaged workforce.

    Talent is not found in resumes or interviews or background checks or college transcripts.

    Talent must be hired since it cannot be acquired or imparted after the hire.

  6. Typical attitude of employers “don’t worry, we have 100 applicants for this job, we really don’t have to care about employees. We’ll have a replacement in ten minutes.”

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